Most people have never met any conjoined twins. In fact, the very phenomenon often seems mysterious and even legendary. But make no mistake: conjoined twins are stillborn more regularly than you may think, and few cases are quite as famous as Isabelle and Abby Carlsen.
The two were born over a decade ago as conjoined twins. At the time, many people (most especially their parents) were worried they would be joined together. However, after a risky procedure, these two beat the odds and are now living as healthy, happy, and separated little girls.
How did these young girls manage to overcome the odds? What was their early life like, and what are they doing now? Keep reading to discover the answers!
Declared ‘miracle babies’ at birth
When the Carlsen twins were born, they were declared “miracle babies.” They were joined together at both the chest and the abdomen. Their connection went far deeper than skin, though. In fact, at birth, the girls shared a small intestine and a liver and even had their hearts connected.
Those shared internal organs may give you a better idea of why the girls were declared “miracle babies” at birth. There is a lot of room for something to go wrong during pregnancy or delivery. For example, Seattle Children’s Hospital reports that “about 40% of conjoined twins are not alive when they are born. About 35% die within a day after they are born because their organs cannot support them.”
As you can see, the odds really were against these girls from the very beginning. And when the parents decided to try to surgically separate their children, they faced another uphill battle against the odds.
A deadly statistic for conjoined twins
Surgically separating conjoined twins is much more complex than simply separating their bodies. As we noted before, the Carlsen twins were born sharing a number of different internal organs. A safe separation involves making sure that each twin can function independently on their own and that they have their own set of healthy, independent organs.
Because of this, surgically separating conjoined twins is very dangerous. According to Good Morning America, “only about 60% of separated conjoined twins survive.” This means the girls’ parents were taking a major gamble by going through with the separation. Fortunately, it was a gamble that paid off in a big way!
How the twins were separated
Now you know just how badly the odds were stacked against the Carlsen twins. It was a miracle they survived childbirth and another miracle that they survived getting separated. Fortunately, that second miracle had a dream team of doctors and medical professionals to help make it happen.
The surgery was undertaken by no less than 17 of the finest surgeons available, and the entire procedure took over 12 hours. That would have been stressful enough by itself, but those 12 hours were filled with some nail-biting moments (including when the surgeons had to deal with that liver the girls shared).
Ultimately, the surgery was a success. Unfortunately, the girls still had to wait a long time before they could come home with their parents.
The hospital was a second home
After the miraculous and successful surgical separation, the girls’ parents wanted nothing more than to take them home to begin their new family together. However, the doctors quickly told the family they’d have to be patient because the girls would need a lot more medical supervision before they were discharged.
Ultimately, the Carlsen twins ended up spending six months in the hospital. It was difficult for parents and children alike to not live together for those first six months. However, once the girls got home, they enjoyed the kind of “happily ever after” that their parents had always dreamed they would have.
The girls are now healthy and happy
Many years later, these formerly conjoined twins are now living their best lives. They are more than just healthy and happy: in fact, they have become outright bundles of energy that parents and teachers can barely keep track of!
According to one of those teachers, the girls are very social and have plenty of friends, and they even enjoy gymnastics. Fortunately, all that socialization and extracurricular activities haven’t kept the girls from keeping excellent grades at school.
The girls don’t feel so identical anymore
After getting surgically separated, the Carlsen girls had to deal with something that most twins have to deal with, and that’s other people confusing the two of them. Many would consider this an understandable mistake, but it makes less sense to the girls each day.
According to CBS News, Abby described her own confusion at…well…the confusion of others. “Every night we look in the mirror in our room, and we’re like, how do people get us mixed up?” That’s a small price to pay, perhaps, for the miracles of their birth and successful separation. And while it can be annoying to get confused for your sibling, both twins can take comfort from the fact that their story is truly one of a kind!